Internet freedom in Turkey under the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears to have reached a new low with reports that the country’s communications regulator has introduced an attempted ban on VPNs.
There are conflicting reports at this stage about whether the VPN ban is already in place or whether it is still at the testing stage.
Mixed messages on Turkey’s VPN block proposals
According to one source, the Diken news portal [in Turkish] the block on VPNs is already in place. They claim that a number of providers are already unavailable in the country including Tor Project, VPN Master, Hotspot Shield, Psiphon, Zenmate VPN, TunnelBear, Zero VPN, VyprVPN, Private Internet Access VPN, ExpressVPN & IPVanish.
This report appears to be a little premature, but it has become increasingly apparent that the regime is planning such a move. Indeed, one expert from the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (BTK) appears to have confirmed as much.
The Stockholm Centre for Freedom has reported on comments made by Levent Gönenç from the BTK in the Hürriyet newspaper in Turkey.
According to the reports, in a presentation to a Turkish Parliamentary Commission, Gönenç admitted that the BTK were indeed testing a system to try and block VPNs in Turkey. He claimed that the BTK had already informed server suppliers of the plans and having already carried out initial testing, are now planning a fresh round of tests.
The comments were not very specific and so could be interpreted in a number of different ways. Either the plans are at a very early stage and the BTK is still figuring out how best to implement it. Or it is also possible that initial tests were unsuccessful and so it is back to the drawing board for the BTK.
However, one thing which does seem to be certain is that Turkey is planning to introduce a block on VPN providers at some point in the future. Implementation dates do not appear close to being announced as of yet, but Turkish VPN users still need to be aware of the developments.
VPNs already banned in Turkey
Trying to block VPNs is an extremely difficult task, as private services such as Netflix and even authoritarian superpowers such as Communist China have found.
Most will go about trying to block individual server IP Addresses. But it is not that difficult for VPN providers to change the IP Addresses they use and several have already developed a technology to mask them.
The Chinese Communist Party has confidently claimed it plans to introduce a total block on VPNs, but the date of implementation continues to be pushed back and despite the huge amount of resource that China throws at its internet control systems, a foolproof blockage of VPNs still seems to have eluded them.
Turkey will have nothing like the same budget to try and enforce their blockade, so it will be interesting to see just how they go about it and whether they try a ‘cat and mouse’ approach like Netflix by chasing IP Addresses, or something more sophisticated.
VPNs essential for free internet access in Turkey
Turkey’s efforts to ban VPNs are part of their broader scheme to introduce strict online controls to help sure up the power base of President Erdoğan after a failed coup in the country last year.
As we have reported previously, steps already taken include blocking access to sites like Wikipedia and social media services like Facebook, cutting access to the internet altogether in some parts of the country, and restricting access to cloud storage services. Their most recent step saw the encrypted email service Protonmail being blocked.
And it should also be noted that VPNs are already illegal to use in Turkey along with the TOR network. In late 2016, just months after the attempted coup had been put down, laws were passed banning the use of proxy services and ordering the blocking of such technology.
Nearly 18 months on and while efforts to block VPNs continue, the BTK appears to have made little progress. But as the comments by Levent Gönenç show, their efforts continue.
So, while using a VPN is already essential for anyone in Turkey who wants to access an uncensored internet and be able to speak freely online without fear of repercussions, there has never been a more important time to sign up for one.
To help you, we have compiled our pick of the Best VPNs for Turkey. All of these providers offer a great service for expats and locals alike.
And should a block on VPNs be introduced at some point in the future, all can be expected to do everything in their power to keep their service available for Turkish users.